- The Washington Times - Monday, May 20, 2002

From combined dispatches
A U.S. Special Forces soldier was killed in eastern Afghanistan yesterday when his patrol came under heavy enemy fire, the Pentagon said.
Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Michael Humm said enemy forces engaged the patrol, sparking a firefight at 8:30 a.m. EDT. There were no immediate reports of coalition or enemy casualties in the clash.
The name of the dead soldier is being withheld pending notification of his family.
The U.S. soldier was part of a reconnaissance patrol to flush out remaining pockets of al Qaeda and Taliban forces, who were hunkering down in caves and other hide-outs since the U.S.-led coalition ousted the fundamentalist group from power last year.
On Saturday, hundreds of coalition soldiers, backed by U.S. warplanes, scoured the rugged mountainous region of Khost-Paktia in eastern Afghanistan for suspected Islamic terrorists who had fired on coalition forces.
But the Pentagon declined to comment on whether the dead U.S. service member was directly connected to this mission, known as Operation Condor.
The soldier's death was the first U.S. combat loss since eight men were killed in March in a massive air assault on the Shah-e-Kot valley south of Gardez in eastern Afghanistan's Paktia province.
Four U.S. servicemen died April 15 in a premature explosion while trying to destroy unexploded ordnance near the southern city of Kandahar, and a Navy SEAL was killed March 28 when he stepped on a land mine in the same area.
U.S., British and Australian forces have been patrolling the rugged mountains of eastern Afghanistan searching for al Qaeda and Taliban fighters.
Yesterday's fighting was the first reported since Friday, when some 1,000 British-led troops mounted the sweep through the hills near Khost, saying they believed a "significant number" of fighters were there after an Australian patrol was attacked Thursday.
The Australians came under heavy fire there for five hours, until calling in strikes by American AC-130 gunships, which killed 10 Taliban and al Qaeda fighters.
Lt. Col. Ben Curry, a British military spokesman, said earlier yesterday that coalition troops had searched half the area targeted by the Operation Condor sweep, but encountered no enemy fighters. A small amount of ammunition was found, including two 120 mm rockets and a few cases of 12.7 mm ammunition, Lt. Col. Curry said at Bagram base north of Kabul.
An Afghan tribe whose fighters were killed in Thursday's AC-130 strike disputed the coalition account of the fighting there. A delegation from the tribe discussed the bombing with U.S. officers Saturday at Khost airport, where American special forces are based.
Members of the Sabari tribe said their fighters were skirmishing with the Balkhiel tribe in a dispute over a stand of trees near their villages 30 miles north of Khost when the bombs fell. Sabari elders denied firing on the Australians or the U.S. aircraft or having links to al Qaeda or the deposed Taliban militia.
However, a U.S. military spokesman, Maj. Bryan Hilferty, said yesterday he had "no reason to believe" the tribe's account. "They were shooting heavy machine gun and mortars at us. That is known al Qaeda and Taliban area," he said.
Coalition forces had observed the area for several days and believed it was being used as a transit point by al Qaeda and Taliban members, Maj. Hilferty said.


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